"First" Day of School Never Happened

Should I or shouldn’t I? I’m trying to decide if I want to commit to another year of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog challenge. This past year was a great success for me. I responded to 49 of the 52 prompts plus wrote additional posts as the spirit moved me.   Can I accomplish that again? Probably. Is it worth the effort? Definitely. Judy Russell shared a quote by Aaron Holt, an archivist with the National Archives, “It only takes three generations to lose a piece of oral family history. … It must be purposely and accurately repeated over and over again through the generations to be preserved for a genealogist today.[1]
That would mean my grandchildren’s children might not hear about how our family was saved by a hamster! I can’t let that story evaporate into oblivion. Ok. Decision made.  The blogging will continue!! I need a focus though.
For most people the weekly writing prompts alone would be sufficient. I need a theme. Last year I focused on sharing stories about my generation. This year I will try to tell the stories of “our stuff.” I love stuff. As the self-appointed curator of our family “museum”, I have stuff. A lot of stuff.

A few years ago, I wrote a book based on letters I found in my mother’s closet after her passing. Through those letters, I discovered the origin of many of the items she and my father brought back from their two-year stay in Japan.[2] It was really exciting for me to be able to document the provenance of many objects we had grown up with.
As I draw closer to that time where I should probably be divesting myself of all the stuff, it seems all the more important to identify how these things were acquired over the years. Perhaps that will make the chore of clearing our home easier for our daughters when the time comes. At the very least, it will help them determine which vase is from Tiffany and which came from the Christmas Tree Shop!
So – inspired by Amy Johnson Crow’s Week #1 prompt “First”, I offer you the story of my mother’s schoolbag.

My mother’s schoolbag has certainly suffered over the years. The leather has cracked and is peeling.
Some of the straps are missing. But the latch still works perfectly!
I really need to explore the best preservation method for this treasured heirloom.
My mother spoke of this bag often. Every time she did, it was with a mix of sadness and resentment. “I was all ready for my first day of school. But that never happened.” In the Spring of 1938, my mother, Doris Lichtenthal was 6 years old. She attended her mother’s Kindergarten which was held in the family’s apartment at 43 Silbergasse in Vienna, Austria. Mom wasn’t thrilled about it. She told me she resented sharing her toys with the other children.
She was very excited about the upcoming school year – finally going to school like a “big girl.” The leather schoolbag represented a new life for her, a bit of independence. She loved that bag. Sadly, it would never be used. On September 10, 1938, Doris was sailing on the S.S. Statendam from Rotterdam to New York, where she and her mother would begin a new life. Her father, Paul, would join them the following year once he was released from the Buchenwald Concentration camp. The family settled in New Rochelle, New York. My mother went to Mayflower School, the grammar school down the street from their apartment at 30 Eastchester Road.

Doris on the playground of Mayflower School – 1941

Why did she not use the beloved leather bag? Perhaps it was because Doris very much wanted to be “American” and the bag represented the old country.  She was most certainly embarrassed by her carefully curled hairstyle and the “clunky” boots insisted upon by her mother. We will never know the true reason. But it is clear the leather bag meant a great deal to her. It remained, unused, stored for 73 years, until her death in 2011.

Did you notice the monogram on the fabric just below the schoolbag? I thought I grabbed a white tablecloth to use as a backdrop. Turns out it was one of my great-grandmother’s pillowcases brought here from Vienna in 1938. I told you I had stuff!! 

[1] Russell, Judy. “Just Three Generations.” The Legal Genealogist. N. p., 2014. Web. 4 Jan. 2019.
[2] My father was a Naval officer, based in Japan from 1954-1955. The best thing they brought back was ME!!!

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